Sweeney calls for restoration of DRPA discounts

Posted: June 04, 2014

Commuters and other frequent users of toll bridges between South Jersey and Philadelphia should once again get a discount on tolls, New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney said Monday.

The Delaware River Port Authority, which operates the Ben Franklin, Walt Whitman, Betsy Ross, and Commodore Barry toll bridges, ended commuter discounts in 2010, after phasing out what had once been an $18-per-month break for motorists who made at least 18 trips a month across a bridge.

The round-trip toll, collected from westbound motorists, is now $5 for an automobile. Sweeney urged that it be reduced to $4 per trip for drivers who make 18 trips a month.

"Earlier this spring, I, along with several of my colleagues, called on the DRPA to ease the burden on those who frequently travel across the Delaware," said Sweeney (D., Gloucester), who has significant clout with the New Jersey commissioners on the bistate DRPA board.

"This 20 percent reduction would come at a much-needed time for New Jerseyans, who've been hit by rising property taxes and a sluggish economy.

"Having not received a response to my request, I feel the need to publicly call upon the DRPA to give commuters a break," he said.

Sweeney released a copy of an April 28 letter he sent to Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, the new chairman of the DRPA board, asking that the DRPA "begin the process necessary to reduce tolls as soon as possible."

Cawley responded Monday that "I am open to considering the proposal. We need to understand the full impact after staff fully reviews the details."

Many other bridge and highway toll agencies give discounts to commuters, E-ZPass users, or both.

Other area toll agencies that provide discounts include the Delaware River and Bay Authority, which operates the Delaware Memorial Bridge; the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission, which operates the Interstate 78 bridge over the Delaware, among others; the Pennsylvania Turnpike; the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, which operates the turnpike and the Garden State Parkway; and the South Jersey Transportation Authority, which operates the Atlantic City Expressway.

The DRPA once gave discounts to E-ZPass users, commuters, drivers of fuel-efficient vehicles, and senior citizens.

Now, its only discount is 50 percent off for senior citizens who use a New Jersey-issued E-ZPass and provide proof of age.

The then-chairman of the agency's citizen advisory committee, Jonathan Latko, last year urged the DRPA board to restore discounts for regular commuters and won cautious support from several board members.

"It sounds like a great idea," said then-chairman David Simon, although he quickly noted that too big a discount would put a hole in the DRPA budget, which gets 88 percent of its $330 million in annual revenue from bridge tolls.

And vice chairman Jeffrey Nash, the leader of the New Jersey board delegation, said at the time that "we should immediately look to explore a commuter discount," while cautioning that traffic studies might be necessary and that any break should be fair to both Pennsylvania and New Jersey drivers.

An outspoken advocate of lower tolls recently returned to the DRPA board: Philadelphia labor leader John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty, who serves as the representative of Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.


pnussbaum@

phillynews.com

215-854-4587

@nussbaumpaul

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